POLITICS

Majority of fire evacuees allowed to head home to northern Saskatchewan

07/17/2015 12:52 EDT | Updated 07/17/2016 05:59 EDT
Thousands more people forced from their homes in northern Saskatchewan were heading back Friday after learning that fires which had been threatening their communities were under control.

Evacuation orders were lifted for La Ronge, a town of 2,700 and one of the largest in the region, as well as for the neighbouring Lac La Ronge aboriginal reserve and Air Ronge. Officials said they expected even more communities would be receiving good news by the end of the day.

Other evacuees had already gone home in the last few days. The majority of 13,000 people who fled more than 50 communities in the last three weeks have now been given the all-clear to return.

Rain has fallen in most of the area and more was forecast for the weekend. A fire ban for the north was also lifted Friday.

Premier Brad Wall said the fires appeared under control and he was happy most evacuees would finally be sleeping in their own beds.

"Some of them have been out of their homes since the end of June, sleeping on a cot in some gym," he told The Canadian Press.

"The Red Cross has done a great job and emergency social services has done a great job ... but it's not home. And they've been out of it a long time."

Wall made the comments while at a meeting of premiers in St. John's, N.L., where he and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark called for a national approach to fighting forest fires. Both province's have recruited outside help — from other provinces and abroad — to fight a high number of fires this season, and both have depleted their firefighting budgets

Besides sharing equipment, such as specialized aircraft, Wall said military personnel generally should receive firefighting training so they can be ready to help as soon as a need arises.

About 525 soldiers remained on fire lines on Friday in addition to about 1,100 other firefighters, said Steve Roberts with wildfire management.

He said 112 fires were burning and four communities were still being threatened — Hall Lake, Sucker River, Lamp Lake and Clam Crossing.

Roberts said evacuees allowed home shouldn't panic if they see smoke and firefighters in the area.

"These fires are not out ... They will see crews working, helicopters working. That's to be expected."